Wednesday, February 13, 2013
The Stranger (1946 film)
Directed by Orson Welles and written by Anthony Veiller, Victor Trivas, and Decla Dunning, with additional re-writes by Welles and John Huston, The Stranger is the story of a Nazi criminal hiding in the U.S. under an alias as he’s being pursued by a government agent. The film is an exploration of post-World War II paranoia as it revolves a man trying to start over. Starring Orson Welles, Edward G. Robinson, and Loretta Young. The Stranger is an entrancing yet chilling film from Orson Welles.
What happens when a former Nazi war criminal who reinvents himself as a schoolteacher set to be married until his past finally catches up with him as he’s being pursued by a government official? That is essentially the premise of the film as it is about this man who gets an unexpected visit from a former colleague (Konstantin Shayne) where the man who calls himself Charles Rankin (Orson Welles) realizes that he might have been found not just by the U.S. government but those seeking Nazi war criminals. For Rankin, the time couldn’t have come at a worse time just as he’s set to marry Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young) whose father (Philip Merivale) is a Supreme Courts Justice judge. Yet, he becomes paranoid where he will do things that has the people in his life questioning him including this government official in Mr. Wilson (Edward G. Robinson).
The screenplay does start off interestingly where it is about Mr. Wilson tailing this former war criminal in order to find the man who was once called Franz Kindler. Yet, the script allows the Mr. Wilson character to be a more humanistic individual who just wants to see justice done though he is an imperfect man. Though Rankin isn’t a totally bad man who is just trying to do good, he is troubled by his past as he descends into paranoia where he does bad things and begins to worry his newlywed wife Mary. Even as Mr. Wilson and her father would show Mary things that would raise questions about the man she married. The script does play into traditional schematics of what is expected in a suspense film like this yet it does go into different territory as far as the third act is concerned that does lead to a showdown between Mr. Wilson and Kindler/Rankin.
The direction of Orson Welles is quite interesting in the way he frames many of the film’s intimate moments as it does have some unique framing devices. Particularly in some of the close-ups and medium shots where Welles uses the frame to actually say something. Even if it meant something that is happening in the background. There is also that sense of style in the direction from the use of tracking and crane shots as well as a shot looking up where Rankin climbs up the church tower to fix a clock. It’s all part of the atmosphere that Welles wants to create with the film. Notably the climax where it is this showdown between Mr. Wilson and Rankin that also involves Mary. While it’s a film that does play to what is expected in a suspense film, Welles does manage to make it captivating while finding ways to make it more interesting.
Cinematographer Russell Metty does excellent work with the film’s stylish black-and-white photography that includes some gorgeous images for some of the interior scenes including the church tower as well as an exterior shot that involves Mary walking through a cemetery. Editor Ernest J. Nims does wonderful work with the editing by using some methodical rhythm cuts to play out the film‘s suspense. Production designer Perry Ferguson and art director Albert S. D’Agostino do amazing work with the set pieces from the look of soda shop that some of the characters frequent at to the look of the church tower and its clock.
Costume designer Michael Woulfe does terrific work with the clothes from the dresses that Mary wears to the more straight-laced clothes the men wear. The sound work of Arthur Johns and Corson Jowett is fantastic for the sense of atmosphere that occurs in the scenes in the woods as well as some of the quieter moments in the house that Charles and Mary live in. The film’s music by Bronislau Kaper is superb for the orchestral flourishes that play out the film’s suspenseful moments.
The film’s brilliant ensemble cast includes some notable small performances from Martha Wentworth as the Longstreet family maid, Billy House as the soda shop owner, Byron Keith as veterinarian, and Konstantin Shayne as an old Nazi war criminal trying to reach Rankin. Richard Long and Philip Merivale are excellent in their respective roles as Mary’s brother and father who become suspicious of Rankin as they help aid Mr. Wilson. Orson Welles is great as the troubled Franz Kindler/Charles Rankin who tries to start a new life only to be threatened by his past as he becomes paranoid. Loretta Young is superb as Rankin’s newlywed wife Mary who deals with his behavior as well as the outcome of who he might be. Finally, there’s Edward G. Robinson in a marvelous performance as Mr. Wilson as he is a man just determined to seek out the truth while being someone straight-laced as well as a bit flawed as it’s definitely one of his finest performances.
The Stranger is a remarkable film from Orson Welles that is highlighted by Welles’ direction as well as the performances from himself, Edward G. Robinson, and Loretta Young. The film is an intriguing suspenseful that also explores the world of postwar paranoia concerning former Nazis who are shamed by their actions. In the end, The Stranger is an extraordinary film from Orson Welles.
Orson Welles Films: Citizen Kane - The Magnificent Ambersons - The Lady from Shanghai - Macbeth (1948 film) - Othello (1952 film) - Mr. Arkadin - Touch of Evil - The Trial (1962 film) - Chimes at Midnight - The Immortal Story - F for Fake - Filming Othello – The Other Side of the Wind
Related: Orson Welles: The One-Man Band - They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead - (The Auteurs #69: Orson Welles)
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